4 Ways to Go Deeper in Japan this Holiday


Whether you’re a sophisticated Tokyoite or a curious traveler passing through, check out our end-of-year recommendations for truly immersive holiday activities with your loved ones.

Cook comfort cuisine.


Celebrate the New Year with Japan’s symbolic Soba

Celebrate the New Year by eating a poetic meal to start 2019 on the right foot. In Japanese culture, soba noodles are a traditional meal for New Year's eve that symbolizes good fortune. Named toshikoshi soba (年越しそば:  “year crossing” buckwheat noodle), these long noodles represent continuity and longevity, the smooth passing on from one year to the next. In addition, the buckwheat plant— which last heartily through the winter months— symbolizes strength and resiliency. Who doesn't want to eat such a wonderfully symbolic and delicious meal? Join in on this Japanese tradition for the New Year by making your own toshikoshi soba with masters who have cultivated their craft throughout the years.


Embrace each moment through Buddhist vegan cooking

Introduce new flavors to your palate for the new year and make this holiday a healthy one through an immersive experience in shojin ryori, Zen Buddhist vegan cooking. Asides from learning some great vegan recipes that’ll equip you for good health in 2019, you can apply the Zen philosophies of shojin ryori cooking beyond the kitchen and incorporate mindfulness in the new year. The Zen ideal of shojin (精進: devotion and diligence) has been practiced for centuries in Japanese temples. Many of the beliefs have been passed on to Japanese home-cooking, where each ingredient is lovingly prepared so that there is little left over. Imagine cozying up, in the kitchen of a 350 year-old temple, meditatively cooking and enjoying your meal in the serene atmosphere.


Gift your own traditional handiwork.


Meditate on transience by crafting traditional candles.

A handmade stocking stuffer that is sure to stand out, warousoku are Japan’s traditional vegan candles. In Japan, there are only around 20 craftsmen who still use traditional materials and methods to make warousoku (和蝋燭: Japanese candles), which are exclusively made from plant based materials and molded by hand. Unlike mass-produced paraffin or lard candles, they come in small batches that are carefully crafted. You can style warousoku to suit your tastes, by sticking to traditional colours or by bringing out your creativity and making your own version of these transient art pieces. Lighting these warousoku candles will bring a soft glow to the dark winter nights of this season.


Embrace imperfection by mending pottery with gold.

Finding a crack in the good china, or accidentally ruining your favorite mug can be devastating events, and sometimes repairing with super glue just doesn't do the original any justice.Thankfully there is a poetic solution for this in the process of kintsugi, where pieces are carefully mended by painting cracks with lacquer, then dusted with gold powder for breathtaking results. Take the time to slow down this busy holiday season with kintsugi, and learn about mushin (無心: 'no mind'). Mushin represents non-attachment, existing fully in the present moment and focusing completely on the task at hand, which can open us up to being more present for the upcoming year. In addition, your completed item can make for a meaningful gift for a loved one, or as a personal reminder to not strive for perfection in the new year, but to embrace and celebrate your humanity.


Get acquainted with Japan’s nuanced micro-seasons.


Discover minimalist beauty with ikebana.

Ikebana, Japan’s traditional flower arranging, highlights the beauty of nature in unexpected ways. The fleeting art pieces of ikebana encourage us to embrace the present, and also see things in a new light, nurturing a creative spirit for the new year. Learn the basics of ikebana this holiday season— who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to make a New Year's Resolution to continue ikebana at home too! Great for personal enjoyment, ikebana arrangements can also make for gifts that embody thoughtfulness. In the words of Toshiro Kawase, one of Japan's most influential modern ikebana practitioners, "the whole universe is contained within a single flower." Find your path to mastering the art of ikebana with an expert artist to guide you with your first steps.


Ground yourself in the present with bonsai.

December and January is a good time to reflect on the past and also eagerly plan for the future. In the midst of looking backwards and forwards, it’s good to stay rooted and grateful for the present moment. Connecting with nature, including bonsai trees, can help us do just that! Under the guiding hand of a bonsai expert, create your own miniature tree, whose delicate evolutions you can enjoy year-long. With proper care, you can have a bonsai that will last for generations. Bonsai trees are raised through careful pruning and thoughtful shaping to recreate the beauty of natural settings— it's believed that the oldest living bonsai tree is over 400 years-old! With the necessary paperwork, you can bring your bonsai home, or instead, receive the tools you need to start your own bonsai. These little trees that slowly change with each season, can encourage us to embrace the beauty of the present.


Align mind and body for the new year.


Awaken your ‘ki’ with Okinawan-style Karate.

Get started on those New Year's resolutions of spending more time with loved ones and getting active—all in one karate experience! In this dojo, you’ll be training with local practitioners of all ages and levels in a welcoming and energetic environment. Learning the moves and joining together in kiai (気合: shouting made in martial arts) is a fun way to bond with your family and friends. Not only will your body thank you after the indulgences of the holiday season— your mind will also benefit as one of Okinawan Karate’s objective is to encourage a meditative state. This is a holistic treat for everyone.


Release your tensions with oversized festive drums.

While the holidays can involve heartwarming moments with our loved ones, we also know that it can be an overwhelmingly busy season. Get the residual stress of the holidays out of your system and have some light-hearted fun by beating these massive drums to your heart's content. In Japan you can see wadaiko players of all ages lining up to have their chance to shine at the drums at festivals. It's an approachable activity for any age and the perfect way to escape the briskness of the cold. There is nothing as memorable as sharing learning moments, especially when music is involved! And who knows? Maybe next time you're in Japan during the summer, your whole family can join the wadaiko line-up too.


by Carolyn Edelmuth